Vanilla versus French vanilla. Explain, please!
—Tracey Thomas, San Francisco
Vanilla bean varieties are often named for where they're grown, like Madagascar, Tahiti and Mexico. That's not the case with French vanilla. The name refers not to a vanilla variety but the classic French way of making ice cream using an egg custard base.
Craig Nielsen, chief executive officer of Nielsen-Massey Vanillas in
, Ill., said the eggs give French vanilla a "richer, deeper note" than what's found in plain vanilla.
Agreeing with him is Jeff Miller, a chef with
, the Canton, Mass., company behind
. "The word I would use is 'complex,' French vanilla is more complex than straight-up vanilla," he said.
Baskin-Robbins discontinued its French vanilla flavor last summer after a 65-year run. Miller doesn't read much into that, noting the ice cream maker advertises 31 flavors at any one time while having a "library" containing thousands of flavors.
"This allows us to rotate flavors in and out,'' he said.
As for regular vanilla ice cream made without eggs, know that it's called "
-style" vanilla ice cream, according to David Lebovitz, the Paris-based baker, chef and blogger.
French vanilla, of course, is both a taste and a scent that transcends ice cream. Here's how it's defined by Mauricio Poulsen, director of creation and application flavors for International Flavors & Fragrances Inc.
"Today, in sensory terms, when we refer to French vanilla, it is when the vanilla flavor is caramelized, custard-like, cooked, egg yolk-like, slightly floral,'' he wrote in an e-mail from the company's offices in Tambore, Brazil.